Sunday, January 06, 2008


Several months ago, there was a defense of the Era of Quirk on this blog. But lo and behold, just a few months later, that defense has been softened by the failings at the heart of Juno. Between the oh so cute animated (of sorts) opening sequence (something that appears is or will be director Jason Reitman's stock-in-trade) to the mind numbingly relentless witticisms poured on by stripper-turned-screenwriter Diablo Cody (I hate that quirky name), Juno - to borrow from Midge Simpson - doesn't just cross the line, it throws up on it. How quirky is Juno? It's Knocked Up for the hipster set. How hipster is Juno? The White Stripes not only get mentioned in the film, but Jack White gets made fun of.

Awful film, right? Nope. Despite the early onset quirk overload, and the beyond excessive use of "dude", Juno is one of the best films of the year. Reitman stewards the ship better than he did his first feature, the still fine Thank You For Smoking, and he is able to seam a valid look at teenage pregnancy, even through the eyes of a too-smart-for-her-own-good little hip Indie chick. Cody's love of punk, Indie, and all things good music - from Mott the Hoople and the Stooges to the Melvins and beyond, in conjunction with the fantastic soundtrack anchored by Kimya Dawson, make Juno the rock movie of the year and the Indie cred music movie of the year.

(The issue of abortion and the decisions made by the characters in Juno and Knocked Up will not be dwelled on here because...well...would you want to touch that one?)

But above all, the acting carries the film. Ellen Page was already exceptionally good in the disturbing Hard Candy (but admittedly forgettable in the last X-Men movie as this writer had to be reminded she was in it, and prominently at that). In Juno however, she soars, literally leaps over a career's work of evolution, and is instantly the actress of her generation. Her inherent warmth saves the character from being a stripped-down, soulless machine of one-liners and boring old teenage angst. She's surrounded by a crackerjack ensemble, most notably the veteran character actor J.K. Simmons, in arguably his biggest role to date, and his biggest departure from the usual rabble of toughies he's known to play. It's always, always, satisfying to see a long time supporting player get to have a moment and this is it for Simmons. Juno reunites two of the actors from the best network sitcom of the decade, Arrested Development: Jason Bateman and Michael Cera, the latter of whom already made a winner this year in Superbad. Bateman has so far departed from his teenage acting days it's not even something to reflect on anymore. He's an actor. End of story. Cera may be treading on a one-note style of acting but here he shows a little more depth and range, despite his incessant (though always charming) Cera-ness. If he was better in Superbad, it's only because he was crowded here. Allison Janney never falters and she brings a lot to the unique role of a stepmom who not only means well, but does well and there is little if any time wasted on conventional step-parent fodder. Hell, even Jennifer Garner is good in this thing and that's saying something. The few other teen characters in the film are also all played well despite the fact they are given the remainder of Cody's blather that the Juno character doesn't have to speak.

Amazing how so much can be written about a very good but not perfect film whereas the perfect No Country for Old Men consisted of a one-line review. But that's just how it is. A wordy movie gets a wordy review and an austere, stoic, breath of cinema gets a terse one. For all the love one may have for Juno MacGuff, it's muted by a single shotgun blast from Anton Chigurh. Chigurh 1, Juno 0. Sorry, kid.

Next up: There Will Be Blood. If anyone can stop Chigurh, it must certainly be Daniel Plainview. Or so THEY all say. We shall see...

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